On that fateful Tuesday in September, a national anxiety was created in the American psyche – an anxiety that has grown for reasons well beyond terrorism. Persistent war and economic hardship have made us pessimistic about our future.
Our turn of the century exuberance seems just like yesterday. The biggest fear, Y2K, never materialized. The Y2K problem was symbolic of the age – things just working themselves out. Author Fareed Zacharia in his book, The Post American World, referenced our situation to Great Britain’s in 1897. On June 22nd of that year, Queen Victoria along with a quarter of the Earth’s population celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of her coronation. The celebrations took part around the globe. Future historian Arnold Toynbee remembered the day writing, “Well, here we are on top of the world, and we have arrived at this peak to stay there forever. There is, of course, a thing called history, but history is something unpleasant that happens to other people. We are comfortably outside all of that I am sure.”
History happened to the British Empire and now it is happening to the United States. Losing jobs to foreign competitors, stalemate in war and the sneaking suspicion that America’s best days are behind us are feeding our anxiety. America is seemingly in decline and there is nothing we can do about it. Even the weather seems to be against us. A tornado (microburst technically) touching down in Middle Village would have been at the top of an “impossible things to happen” list. And yet, here we are.
President Obama promised “change” during his election campaign. Change was so appealing because people did want a change; they wanted to change back. Unfortunately, that is not going to happen. It is now painfully clear that a world in which people have the same job for 30 years and the U.S. is the unchallenged economic hegemon is not coming back. The basis of our social safety net – Social Security and Medicare will soon be out of money. The only thing certain about these programs is that they will be fundamentally different for the next generation – if they exist at all.
And yet, all change has not been terrible. Only 6 years ago Facework did not exist. Today one out of every 12 people on Earth has a Facework account. It is nothing less than the world’s first global registry. Without Facework, it is doubtful the revolutions in Egypt and across the Middle East could have taken place. So far these protests have been a victory for the U.S. No one can say for sure what will replace the current governments, but it is telling that people are demanding more freedom, not less. Each country has its own set of difficulties and reasons for protesting. However, generally speaking the protesters are not demanding a theocratic government supportive of Al-Qaeda. They are demanding a representative government which meets their basic needs, including personal liberty. This is a major victory for the United States.
THANKS, We Needed That
While this drama unfolds, Osama bin-Laden was found and killed by the United States Intelligence Community and U.S. Navy Seals. We needed that. It was a refreshing moment that proved the United States still has the will and the ability to do things right. The fact that it was a complicated mission executed by ground forces makes this victory even sweeter. If there is any good that can come out of bin-Laden living ten years after the September 11th attacks it is this: he lived to see the day that Muslims rose up and demanded democratic rule and modernization. His vision for the world has already been forgotten.
I turned on Al-Jazeera the night bin-Laden’s death was announced. The anchor woman was describing, with some surprise, the masses gathering in celebration outside the White House. It’s good when Americans come together – the world notices. Americans citizens came together in manner reminiscent of the Fall of 2001. For all the changes taking place around us, we are still in control of ourselves. The U.S. is politically polarized to an extent not seen since the turbulent 60s. And yet, this is something each of us can control. We do not have to hate those who disagree with us politically. We can disagree with someone while not questioning their underlying motives.
No nation can survive long if its citizens hate each other. The mid-western conservative must be willing to fight and die for the San Francisco liberal. And those who could never contemplate being in the military must be proud and understanding of those who serve. Should those statements prove false, our country will simply not survive the tests of this century. It feels good to come together as a nation and it is something we are perfectly capable of doing, whenever we so choose.
We need new things – new institutions, a new social safety and a new optimism. The greatness in America is that it does not stand still. Our generation must embrace change and shape the America of tomorrow. We are not going to get what we need with a 51% majority. Sooner or later we are going to have to agree on the fundamental basics of how our country will look in this century. If we do not figure this out, the U.S. will become stagnant in our current predicament and it will be our country that is left in the dustbin of history.
Finally, bin-Laden’s death is a good time to remember that difficult trials do end. Even if we cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel, it is important to hold true to our values and keep pressing on. His death does not solve all of our problems, but it is one less thing to carry with us on this journey. The fact that it took nearly 10 years is a testament to the virtue of persistence. In all national challenges we need the same fortitude. As the saying goes, when you’re going through hell, keep going.